Analysis

Vikings vs. Cardinals: A Tale Of Kyler And Kyle

Kyler Murray's got a tough new job. Kyle Sloter wants one.

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As the Vikings square up against a newly regrouping Arizona team on Saturday, both Cardinals’ rookie quarterback Kyler Murray and Minnesota backup Kyle Sloter will be under the lamp.

Chris Carter sometimes says things that he shouldn’t.

Last January, after watching the San Diego Chargers completely dismantle the offense of the Baltimore Ravens and rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson in their playoff game, Carter said on his Fox sports show:

“Kyler Murray’s a better football player than Lamar Jackson right now.  Murray would’ve been better off against the Chargers than Lamar.”

At the time, half the world probably agreed with Carter.  Jackson had been embarrassed by the Chargers’ surprising defense in that game and Murray was on the banquet tour of his final college season, a season that ended with the Heisman trophy and a high-flying performance in the Orange Bowl, college football’s championship game.

Risk And Reward

Fast forward to August of 2019, two games into the NFL preseason, and it seems Carter is now whistling a different tune.

This week, Carter stated on his show (‘First Things First’), that the big reason Kyler Murray was made the number one pick in the college draft stemmed from the regret that several executive’s had in whiffing on similar smaller quarterbacks like Russell Wilson and Baker Mayfield in the past. 

Arizona’s executives just couldn’t take that chance with after seeing Wilson and Mayfield resurrect their NFL franchises.  To them, Murray sure looked the part.

Carter also spent a good deal of time explaining the disadvantages of Murray’s circumstances playing for a pretty awful team, a distant cry from his past praise of Murray as being a better quarterback than the one playing for the NFL team in Baltimore. 

Chris Carter’s rationalizations aside, we can surmise this without being jerks about it: Kyler Murray has shown, quite early in two preseason games, that one, he’s no Russell Wilson, and two, he’s got a lot to learn before he begins winning games in the NFL.

You can also toss in that he’s not 5’ 10”.  Not even close.

Viking Feast

The Minnesota Vikings, the team the Cardinals play against at US Bank Stadium on Saturday afternoon, will be no easy lesson for Murray, as Mike Zimmer’s penchant for ruining the days of young quarterbacks is a strong one.

No doubt he’ll be pressing the pedal of his defensive engine in this game three exhibition and seeing how a young athlete like Murray reacts.

However, the Vikings’ focal point won’t be in creating good feelings about their defensive team, but instead closely by examining players that will provide the talent, skill and execution of their roles to help them improve on a 7-8-1 2018 season.

The closest inspection of which may be at the quarterback spot where second-year player Kyle Sloter is trying to take the understudy position from what looks to be a tentatively-placed Sean Mannion.

Mannion has not played badly in the preseason, but hardly as well as Sloter, who has led winning drives in both games and racked up impressive numbers, going 17-20 for 178 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

An emotional response to such numbers might lead someone to believe that Sloter is ready to take the backup role with aplomb, especially as one examines his accuracy, coolness, and fourth quarter leadership.

But that someone is not his head coach. 

“He’s got to get a lot better in the other parts of being a quarterback,” Mike Zimmer said this week of Sloter.  Making the right checks, getting people in the right formation, making sure the motion is there, not missing time clock with 8 yards in front of you.”

And a zinger: “There are a lot of things he has to get better at if he wants to be the backup quarterback.”

Boiling that down–the “right checks” and “getting people into formation” is pure coach speak to the fact that Zimmer is aware that Kyle Sloter has been competing against 3rd and 4th string players in the preseason games where he’s shined.

If this young quarterback hasn’t shown Zimmer and offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski that he’s an astute and nearly compete player at that level of competition, they know he’ll be eaten alive against starting NFL defenses.

No Business Like Show Business

Murray and Sloter offer a unique perspective of the NFL, a game that is marketed throughout the world.

A player like Kyler Murray, with his golden pedigree and big rookie contract gets fed to the wolves out of necessity for a franchise, while Kyle Sloter could only become a starting quarterback if his team faced an unlikely misfortune of injuries.

In that case, it’s a matter of organizations at this point.

The Cardinals cut QB Sam Bradford last November, then traded their first-round pick  of 2018 (Josh Rosen) to Miami, leaving them with a backup quarterback this year named Brett Hundley, a guy who didn’t even play in the league 2018.

In Minnesota, two guys (Sloter and Mannion), are in the fight of their lives for that backup role behind a clear incumbent who has shown concrete durability.

Sloter’s mission now should be clear: satisfy his coaches just with a performance akin to the one that he’s excited the fans at US Bank stadium with.

Let’s not believe for a moment–even if Sloter outshined all of the quarterbacks in his position room on Saturday–that he would be the appropriate leader for this offense before that happens.

Ask for Murray, there is most likely a similar set of problems, anxieties, and tasks before him.

With one glaring difference.

His team’s talent, new coaching staff, and organization is still to be judged, while the Mike Zimmer defense he’ll be facing on Saturday has a jury that’s come in.

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